Given the unrelenting daily churn from the bike industry’s marketing hype machine, you could be forgiven for thinking that mountain bikes have always had suspension. Our more ‘mature’ readers will know that this simply isn’t true. The wonderful leisure activity of mountain biking did actually start out on fully rigid bikes, which we all happily rode ’til death (the bikes or ours) for many years before suspension came along.
Now, I think most of us can agree that these days, modern suspension is actually A Good Thing™. But it ain’t the only way of having fun.
Shropshire-based Stooge Cycles has been a proponent of rigid mountain bikes for around eight years now, working its range of shapely steel and titanium frames specifically around forks of the non-telescopic variety.
The latest model to come from Andy Stevenson – the mind behind Stooge – is called the Dirtbomb, and it’s adorned with a rather klunker-esque aesthetic that’s sure to tug at the nostalgia-soaked heartstrings amongst us.
Made from titanium and in a very select quantity of just ten, the Dirtbomb includes some interesting geometric features for a non-suspension mountain bike. For a start, it has a 66° head angle, and an enormous 630mm effective top tube. Andy has built the Dirtbomb around his own truss fork design that features no fewer than 80mm of fork offset – the idea being to decrease the mechanical trail to reduce wheel flop with those big 29+ tyres.
There’s a bit more going on with the Dirtbomb, so we got in touch with Andy to find out why it is, well, the way it is.
Firstly, your bike appears to be missing both carbon fibre and suspension. What gives?
Let’s get carbon out of the way first. Carbon has pretty much taken over as the material of choice for high end bikes, and I get why – it’s light and cheap and it opens up the possibilities for design, but to me its a dark, soulless material with very shady eco credentials. More than that, though, I’m obsessed with bike design and its history and the long lineage of frame builders producing works of art from metal tubes. My aim has always been to take that spirit and produce bikes that will stand the test of time, outside of any fads and trends, and that will still look great and ride brilliantly in 20 years time.
As for suspension? In a nutshell, at the outset of Stooge, I asked myself one question – how would mountain bikes have developed if suspension has never been adopted? The longer version is that I’d spent 25 years riding mountain bikes and had ended up like everyone else, obsessed with the latest full suspension bikes, taking out loans to buy them and riding them to death, but at some point I realised I was just ‘point and shooting’ and that something had been lost on the way.
I started building rigid bikes, as bad as they were, but fell in love with the feeling of direct contact with the trail, the fact that when you pedalled you shot forward, the fact you had to pick your line to avoid pain and disaster. And then the sense of achievement that came with riding a properly gnarly trail on a rigid bike, doing it again and again until you’re faster than you were on your full squisher.
This got me thinking about geometry, and whether a rigid bike could be designed as a legit trail bike with a setup that could limit the hammering. And so I designed a bike, and it worked a treat – slacker head angle than was the norm at the time, taller front end, mildly swept bars so you ride with the front unweighted so it skips along the trail. The one overwhelming advantage of a good rigid bike is that the geometry is set in stone, it never deviates through suspension sag, and once you’re dialled to the bike the feeling is like no other, you know exactly how the bike will react, its agility is through the roof, it’s up to the rider to learn the skills and start hammering the trails. The response I get from people who try my bikes is always the same: ‘I had no idea this would be so much fun’.
The Dirtbomb takes everything I’ve learnt about rigid bikes in the last four years of Stooge and pushes the envelope. Oh, and you’ll never have to worry about massive suspension servicing bills.
We love the name – where did it come from?
I’m a massive garage rock fan, and the daddy of all garage rock bands are The Stooges. ‘Funhouse’ is the single best rock album in the world ever, if you like heavy, grooving music and you don’t own it you need to buy it today. Anyway, another of the great Detroit rock bands are the Dirtbombs, and this bike is a garage rocker and it stole their name ‘cos it loved them that much.
And who would you say the Dirtbomb is made for then?
It’s made for anyone that loves riding bikes off road and is maybe left cold by the cash heavy maintenance schedule of high-end bikes. It’s for people who are bored by the current state of the bike world, who want to introduce some zen and soul into their riding and take this rigid thing to the next level. It’s for anyone that looks back on the Repack days with an overwhelming sense of misty eyed lust and wants a piece of the action in a state-of-the-art 21st century style, which is me by the way.
But on a serious note, it’s hard to get across in words just how transformative riding a bike like this can be, to me it’s like a pedalling version of pure joy. Because of the way it looks, it gets a lot of ‘is it a cruiser?’ comments, but no, it’s a hard boiled rigid mountain bike with a big visual nod to our heritage.
Why the ‘experiment’ in rigid geometry? What did you want to experiment with?
The demands of a rigid bike are completely different to a hardtail or full susser. Suspension provides greater comfort and control, which in turn provides more speed. When I’m designing a bike with no suspension I’m looking at two things – how can I make this bike handle like an absolute dream, and how can I limit the punishment making its way through the bars.
To digress a little, once upon a time all mountain bikes were rigid, and they were all shit, with geometry and a riding position that was basically taken from road bikes, probably because all the team riders in those early days had come from a road background and it was what they wanted, in terms of a familiar riding position that they could perform with. In those days suspension was without doubt a game changer that countered the 140mm long stems and 500mm wide handlebars.
As I touched on earlier, the design of the first Stooge was based around the idea of making a rigid trail bike with a taller front end, shorter stays to keep the front end light and poppy, and a larger fork offset to get the wheel out front. Coupled with a new-on-the-scene 29+ front tyre for rollover and a bit of cush, for me it was a revelation and it’s served me well to this day.
Meanwhile, in the world of ‘normal’ mountain bikes, the rather massive trend for ‘long, slack and low’ was taking over, in this country at least. One of the design issues when you take this to extremes is the massive amount of trail and wheel flop that’s introduced into the front end geometry, but the basic concept of the front wheel being way up front is one that certainly works for a certain type of riding.
With a rigid bike, the further you can get the front wheel in front of the steering axis, or more specifically, the further you can get the rider’s weight behind the front wheel, the less punishing the bike feels. People often asked about the need to keep the front wheel weighted, it’s counter-intuitive to many, but an unweighted front end is only a problem on a bike with a suspension fork, a plus front tyre provides all the insurance you need not to wipe out on a rigid bike. So the Dirtbomb is an experiment in getting the front wheel stretched out and up front as a means to attack trails harder and faster and with more comfort.
Can you elaborate on more of the frame’s geometry? And are we likely to see more than one size?
The basic geometry figures for the frame are: 630mm ETT, 75mm BB drop, 18in seat-tube, 445mm chainstays, 66° head angle, and the big bit, an 80mm fork offset. The 80mm fork offset is the important bit because it keeps the trail figure at a fairly neutral 77mm and gets rid of any sense of wheel flop. The important bit is how this translates on the trail, and the result is a bike with incredibly quick, responsive steering on the slower, tighter stuff – it really does feel like a short 26in wheeled bike – and yet when it gets up to serious speeds it becomes incredibly stable and carvey. Because the front wheel is way out front and the rider’s weight is further back you can let it rip down anything, you feel more stable on steep, techy descents because there’s no fork sag to send you off balance.
I appreciate that a lot of people will be reading this, thinking ‘why not just buy a long slack and low hardtail?’ but this rigid thing runs through my blood now and it’s about making something truly unique and special that can blow preconceptions out of the water. Re the size, there are only going to be ten of these made available to purchase, but as they’re made to order all sizing requests can be accommodated. The ‘one size’ Stooge thing was never a statement, it was more because I literally started the company from my garage with no investors and could only afford to produce the one size, wholly preferable to not producing a bike at all.
Is the truss fork your own design? Or is that an off-the-shelf item?
Yes, totally, and as mentioned before, it was about getting a large enough wheel offset to get the steering effect I wanted. Obviously truss forks have become synonymous with Jones bikes, but they date back to the 1940s and beyond. In the case of this bike, it was the only way I was going to be able to produce a titanium fork with such an extreme offset that would be both strong and stiff enough to work.
Is the frame specifically designed around that fork, or could you run a suspension fork?
The frame and fork are designed as one and are completely rigid specific, so even if you wanted to, you couldn’t. The axle to crown on the fork is supershort to prevent people from straying into the mainstream, ha ha. But really, change one factor and the magic would be lost.
Where are the frames made?
These titanium frames are made by an amazing team in China who produce incredible work for a number of worldwide brands. I’ve been very fortunate to be hooked up with them and should probably thank Brant (Richards) for that.
So there you go – a bit of insight into this rather old/new-school klunker from Stooge Cycles.
Oh, and Andy also informs us that he’ll be teaming up with Charlie Kelly to produce an even more limited number of Charlie Kelly signature framesets. We’re told that “visually it’ll be a full-on nod to the earliest days of mountain biking but with bang up to date features and geometry“, which sounds bloody marvellous.
If you’re into it, you can get more info via the Stooge Cycles website.